Friday, 4 January 2013

Book Review - Dead lucky by Lincoln Hall

Dead lucky : life after death on Mount Everest by Lincoln Hall

New York : Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin; 2007                 ISBN  9781585426461

Lincoln Hall was a relatively well-known Australian mountaineer, having spent a lot of time in the Himalayas climbing, and was part of the Australian team that were the first from that country to ascend Everest in 1984, pioneering a new route in the process. Hall turned back from the summit in '84, so when he was offered a role in the team of a person attempting to be the youngest to complete the Seven Summits in 2006, he jumped at the chance.

2006 proved to be a particularly deadly one on Everest, but Lincoln did not die - his story was much scarier - he was left for dead at 28,000 feet, spent the night in the open, and manged to survive and make it down the mountain to safety.

As Hall makes clear at the beginning of the book, this is not the whole story of what happened on Everest in that year, just the story of his remarkable survival. There are however some interesting observations on the whole guided mountaineering activity that goes on in the Himalayas, as Lincoln's party was attached to one of these companies (7Summits), whereas his previous experience in high mountains had been with small teams of experienced mountaineers.

What was weighing on his mind more than the commercialization of Everest was his limited seven week preparation for his summit bid, even though he was using oxygen, something he hadn't used previously. When his young charge found that he couldn't cope with the thin atmosphere at the North Col and turned back, Hall thought that his climb too was over. When he was given the OK to continue on his own attempt, he set off with high hopes.

He made the summit without too many problems, but almost immediately on the climb down he began suffering from the effects of exhaustion and altitude sickness, and collapsed. The Sherpas from his team spent eight hours dragging him down the mountain, but only managed to get him down to 28,000 feet before they too were exhausted. By this time Hall was unresponsive, and to all intents and purposes dead.

The story then breaks into two strands: the reaction to the news of his death back in Australia, and a vivid description of the hallucinatory power of altitude sickness as Hall made it through the night. He was lucky enough to be lucid when the next mornings summiters appeared, and they abandoned their climb to help him.

His ordeal was by no means over however, with Hall the recipient of some surprising brutality from some of the Sherpas who assisted him down, along with high quality care and attention from his Russian expedition leaders, and others in Kathmandu and Australia.

This book was written in the year after Hall's return from Everest, when Hall was still trying to come to grips with how, and more importantly why, he survived. He comes up with no definitive answers. The trauma of the night and the rescue comes out clearly in the book, and was obviously still with him at the time of writing.

As a semi-professional writer (Dead lucky was his eighth book), this is a well written story, as gripping as it should be, and one that does give some insight into the mindset of a mountaineer.

In a tragic irony, Hall died early in 2012 from mesothelioma, possibly contracted when building cubby houses from asbestos in his youth.

If you have a penchant for mountaineering tales, it's hard to go past this one. Highly recommended.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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